Volkswagen’s brazen cheating on emissions tests may lead to the premature deaths of 1,200 Europeans, according to a new report from MIT. The New York Times reports:
[S]cientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology estimate that 1,200 people in Europe will die prematurely, each losing as much as a decade of life, because of excess emissions from 2.6 million affected cars sold just in Germany.
All diesel cars produce high levels of nitrogen oxides, or NOx, because they burn fuel at a higher temperature than cars that run on gasoline, said Guillaume Chossière, a research assistant at M.I.T. and lead author of the study.
This is, first and foremost, a story of inexcusable corporate malfeasance. VW deliberately cheated emissions tests, and this new study suggests they have blood on their hands as a result.
But VW isn’t the only car company with a history of gaming European testing standards. In fact, that sort of fraudulent behavior seems to be something of an industry standard on the continent. Prototypes that are sent in to be tested are stripped of any superfluous features to help reduce drag and weight and therefore increase mileage—things like side mirrors or stereo systems are left out, while cracks between the cars’ panels are taped up. It’s been clear for years that Europe’s testing regime doesn’t reflect actual driving conditions, and the United States has called the EU out for it, too.
Diesel came into vogue because it offers slightly higher mileage than regular unleaded gasoline, and in Europe’s haste to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, it pushed this alternative fuel type aggressively. But the trade-off comes in the form of those nasty nitrous oxides and fine particulate air pollution, and that compromise is being born out in Europe’s increasingly smoggy cities. The EU’s wild pursuit of its own self-imposed climate targets has worsened the bloc’s air quality and, by sheer dint of the numbers involved, will have made a much greater impact on the public health than VW’s test rigging.